Beta reading is both a privilege and a curse, and when you’re the author, nervously waiting for someone to tell you how shit your work is and how it’s never going to sell, it’s important to think of a few things.
- Everybody is different. This seems like an easy one but it’s an invaluable piece of information to hold onto.
- Readers aren’t psychic. Also obvious, but when the feedback comes back and says “I don’t think you’ve explained it well”, and that’s the feedback you get consistently, then clearly there is something wrong with that sentence/paragraph/chapter.
- Not everyone is right. Just because every single reader says they hate one sentence, but you think it’s the best thing you’ve ever written doesn’t mean you have to scrap it. Maybe it’s in the wrong place, maybe you could move it. But if you want it there, there’s nothing your beta readers can do about it. You have the final say. You are the author and it’s your baby.
- Sometimes they have good advice, even if you don’t want to hear it. Yes, the manuscript is your baby but if thirty readers of different ages and sexes all come back and say there’s something that needs improving, it might be worth considering their opinion to be valuable.
- If one out of thirty readers think something is good and the rest don’t, don’t latch onto that one reader because you like the idea too. If other readers have given you detailed feedback go through it and try to looks at it objectively. It’s tempting to go with people who agree with you but if you and they are wrong then you’re both walking in the wrong direction and the only consolation is that you’re not alone in the wilderness. You have the other person, who was wrong, with you.
Now, a couple of those tips have revolved a little around reader choice, and this can be incredibly important. There are a lot of considerations to be made before handing your precious intellectual property over to some friend or stranger. Just a few include:
- Do they have experience? Professionals can give some cracking good feedback, and even if you have to pay a little for their services, it can be a huge help.
- Are they in your target audience? This can matter a lot or it can matter only a little. If you’re writing books aimed directly and exclusively at non-binary-gender southeast asians with a fantasy theme, then Joe Blow down the road is probably not your best bet to read the manuscript. Though, if you’re writing a book with that narrow an audience then I applaud your positivity and wish you all the best.
- Remember that adults sometimes read kids books too. This is a bit of a continuation of my previous point but I think it’s important enough to warrant its own bullet point. YA books in particular can be read by adults (think Harry Potter, Skulduggery Pleasant, etc) and of course, adults read picture books and children’s fiction to their children. It’s as important the children enjoy it as the adult reading it. That adult has to know it’s appropriate.
Prepping for a beta reader can be an issue too. I have some feedback surrounding my formatting preferences that made me realise that unless I make the text easy to read, my reader probably isn’t going to enjoy it as much as they might have. It doesn’t fix major plot holes or give your two dimensional character any more depth, but it does give the manuscript a sense of professionalism and readability that means your readers won’t get headaches.
- Water marks. I like them, I think the manuscript looks more like my intellectual property if my name is stamped across it. A word of advice; colours are tempting but stick to greyscale. The colour can distract the reader’s eye and make the reading process harder.
- Don’t use stupid fonts. This might seem pretty basic but seriously, pick a nice, easy to read font that isn’t going to make certain letters hard to read or make the whole thing look childish and silly.
- Double spacing. It might make your page count longer but it makes the text easier on the eye. This is a matter of personal preference.
- Font size. Like not using stupid fonts, don’t use tiny fonts. If it’s hard to read PHYSICALLY then it’s not going to be as enjoyable.
This whole advice column may seem a little backward to you when you first look at it, but I think it’s really important to be ready for how your manuscript will be received before you start. Formatting is always the last thing you do. So, in short:
Make sure you’re ready to be critiqued
Make sure you’re being critiqued by the right people
Make sure your manuscript is in a fit state to be critiqued